J. Harry Jones must have a different idea of what constitutes “a large crowd of San Pasqual Valley residents” than I do. http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/2015/aug/27/safari-highlands-development-escondido-pasqual/ By my count, there were nine such speakers. Three other Escondido residents also spoke against beginning a study to include the area of the proposed Safari Highlands Ranch Development in Escondido’s Sphere of Influence (SOI). The Council Chambers were pretty empty, just the usual city staff, the developer and his retinue, and maybe twenty members of the public. All of the public speakers spoke against the proposed development, and several claimed the reason so few were attending that night was because the meeting was so poorly noticed—and poorly noticed by intent of the City staff, City Council, and the developer.
Interestingly, the City of Escondido’s new General Plan (GP) includes this area, even though it is not now included in the City’s SOI. Dave Ferguson, lawyer for the developer of Safari Highlands, was the chairman of the committee that developed the new GP. Was the intent to “round out” the City’s boundaries or to “round out” the pockets of future developers?
I wrote about this 550-home Safari Highlands Ranch Development in April of 2014, when the Council first considered it. https://ablueviewescondido.com/2014/04/29/62/ At that time, I knew it was a rare area of natural habitat within the Multiple Species Conservation Program. Pat Mues published a letter from the San Diego County Planning Department to the City of Escondido that emphasizes this fact. http://escondido2014.com/2014/04/22/planning-division-county-of-san-diego-weighs-in-on-safari-highlands-ranch/ I found this part of the letter particularly telling:
Under the existing County of San Diego General Plan Rural Lands (RL-40) Land Use Designation, the 1,100 acre project site would accommodate approximately 27 single family units. The County General Plan states that rural areas are not appropriate for intensive residential or commercial uses due to significant topographical or environmental constraints, limited access, and the lack of public services or facilities. The rural lands designation is intended to:
a. Preserve the County’s rural atmosphere
b. Protect land with significant physical or environmental constraints or hazards
c. Preserve open space, farmland, and natural resources
d. Provide open space buffers and a visual separation between communities
e. Preserve and provide land for agricultural opportunities
`f. Prevent sprawl development, thereby reducing vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions.
The first public speaker on the matter was Neil Greenwood. He spoke of the drip, drip, dripping away of the freedom of his neighborhood near the proposed development. Where would the new sewage treatment plant go? Why had the City already waived some requirements for building on the area’s steep slopes? A paucity of truth was his judgment on information from the developer and the City. His wife, Karen Greenwood noted that the middle class would have no chance of buying a home in the upscale development, that cramming in 550 homes would dramatically increase the traffic and pollution for existing homeowners.
The next speaker noted that it takes a mule to get around on the area proposed for development. Josie Ackerman observed that is was sad to see the name of the San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park twisted into the name of this development that violated the County’s GP. Her husband, Kurt Ackerman lambasted the City Council and the Developer for not keeping the neighbors informed of what was happening.
Scott Graves noted that the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) had been established to encourage orderly development away from open space and agricultural lands. (LAFCO must approve any changes to Escondido’s SOI.) He presented a PowerPoint showing that Escondido ranked as one of the worst cities for its size in traffic accidents and fatalities. Cherie Graves avowed that development went against the intent of both the City’s and the County’s General Plans—why even have a General Plan if you are going to ignore them? She too claimed that the City had intentionally withheld information from the neighbors, so the project could be pushed through.
Nina Deerfield, reminding Mayor Sam Abed that he said he wanted to know what the public thought, suggested the City conduct a survey of residents to see how they felt about such developments. Don Greene Pointed out that the proposal violated the City’s GP on three levels. First, it was not orderly development that would benefit the city. Second, it did not have services, infrastructure and facilities available. Third it would have an adverse economic impact on existing residents. Chris Nava encourage the Council to study the issue more before taking action, and to reach out to the community that has a right to have a voice in decisions that affect their quality of life, decisions that will lead to the LosAngelesation of our area.
The Council response was predictable. Councilman John Masson asked when the last update of the City’s SOI was done—2005. Well time for another he judged. Councilman Mike Morasco allowed that he sees many areas that he would like to see not just in the SOI but within the City’s boundaries. Councilman Ed Gallo reasoned that since the area was within Escondido’s GP, it should be within the SOI. He counseled that it would be four or five years before anything is built, and it wasn’t leapfrog development (so why worry?) Gallo again touched on his domino theory of housing demand—claiming that three more houses will come on the market for every new home on the market. Masson wanted to know if this new, improved SOI would include all areas now covered by the GP, and was told yes.
Something a bit unusual happened then, Abed reopened the public hearing for someone who had asked a question from the audience, someone who evidently had met with Abed on the issue. He asked if Gallo had ever been to the property, adding that it was classic leapfrog development. He asked if anyone on the Council was on LAFCO—yes, Abed is. He shook his head at that information. It concerned him that the Council seemed to ignore what the public speakers had said. One more woman was allowed to speak before Abed closed the public hearing again. She asked if she had heard correctly that it was the developer who paid for the SOI update study. Jay Petrek tried to assure her that the developer paid for the study and the Environmental Impact Report, but such studies were made by independent contractors recommended by the City. She was not assured, saying that it seemed to her a major conflict of interest.
Abed then tried to reassure folks that even though there will be impacts, on the San Pasqual area, the Council was following the proper procedure to insure the property rights of land owners. (Hear that Michael Schlesinger?) Yes the Council would move forward but before anything was built, there would have to be mitigation for traffic impacts and for loss of habitat. In fact, Abed avowed, the project would not be approved unless it was fully mitigated. He urged the developer to reach out to the neighbors, not mentioning whether or not the City would do the same. His logic seems a bit flawed, since the area in question is land designated as “Pre-approved Mitigation Area”. In other words, this is land that developers should be able to preserve in order to mitigate the habitat damages of other developments.
And, so the four Councilmen (Councilwoman Olga Diaz was absent) provided direction to the staff to proceed with the update of the SOI process (no vote was needed.) This is another assault on the County’s General Plan, like the many General Plan Amendments. Allow Lilac Hills, and the rest will be allowed following precedent. Allow Safari Highlands Ranch and Rancho Guejito will soon follow. Soon San Diego County will become another Los Angeles County—paradise paved over.